Elena Kagan: Despite partisan splits, confirmation appears likely
Elena Kagan debate began in the Senate Tuesday. The start of several days of discussion over her nomination to the Supreme Court was marked by partisan divides, but Elena Kagan is expected to easily win confirmation.
The US Senate on Tuesday opened debate on the nomination of Elena Kagan to the US Supreme Court, with Democrats praising her intelligence, good humor, and moderate judicial philosophy and Republicans predicting that sheâ€™ll use her seat to advance a liberal agenda.
Although the expected three-day discussion on the Senate floor is intended to examine Ms. Kaganâ€™s suitability for a lifetime appointment to the high court, the senatorsâ€™ comments Tuesday often reflected a larger debate over the future course of American law â€“ including the constitutionality of President Obamaâ€™s health-care reform law.
While Republicans attacked Kaganâ€™s lack of judicial experience and limited experience as a lawyer, Democrats countered by attacking the conservative wing of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts.
He warned that if left unchecked, the high court might invalidate a century of legal precedents affirming the power of the national government to â€ślook out for the welfare of the American people.â€ť
â€śLaw matters in peopleâ€™s lives,â€ť Senator Leahy said. â€śShe understands this.â€ť
â€śTo my mind the president made a wise choice,â€ť Sen. Diane Feinstein (D) of California added.
In preparing for the debate, the Senate Judiciary Committee examined 170,000 pages of documents and questioned the nominee for 18 hours over three days. â€śWhat repeatedly emerges from all this is that Elena Kagan is a pragmatist, a problem solver, and a conciliator,â€ť Senator Feinstein said.
Leading the opposition to her confirmation, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama said Kagan had been less than candid in her Senate testimony. At times, he said, â€śher testimony was more consistent with White House spin than the truth.â€ť
Senator Sessions said Kagan has been described as collegial, engaging, and a consensus-builder. But he said the qualities he considered most important for a judge were discipline, restraint, and rigorous intellectual honesty.
â€śAmericans are sick of political spin by politicians, and they donâ€™t want it from judges,â€ť he said.
Kagan is expected to win relatively easy confirmation. So far, five Republicans have announced that they intend to vote for her and one Democrat has said he will vote against her. The final vote is expected Thursday.
Kagan was nominated by President Obama to fill the seat of retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. If confirmed she would become only the fourth woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice and her service in the courtâ€™s fall term would mark the first time three women sat together on the same nine-member court.
In her career, Kagan has achieved several historic firsts â€“ breaking two glass ceilings. She was the first woman to serve as dean of Harvard Law School, and she was the first woman confirmed as US Solicitor General.
She has worked for the past year and a half in that job, arguing the governmentâ€™s cases at the Supreme Court.
Among issues raised by Republican opponents are her actions in barring military recruiting at Harvard Law Schoolâ€™s office of career services at a time when federal law required recruiters be given full access to students.
Some senators object to her involvement as a White House policy advisor who prevented an effort to ban a partial-birth abortion procedure. Critics say she appeared motivated to protect the policy and legal position of pro-choice advocates in the divisive issue.
In addition, questions have been raised about her support for the high courtâ€™s recent decisions establishing a right to keep and bear arms. Some Republican senators also question how broadly she might interpret the commerce clause as granting Congress authority to regulate a wide swath of American life, including the Presidentâ€™s health care law.
It isnâ€™t just an issue for Republicans.
â€śCongressâ€™s authority to promote the general welfare cannot be in doubt,â€ť Leahy said in his speech on the Senate floor. â€śGrowing old no longer means growing poor. Being poor no longer means going without medical care.â€ť
In repeating his earlier announced support for Kagan, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina said he would vote to confirm the presidentâ€™s choice even though he was sure he would disagree with many of her decisions at the high court.
Senator Graham said senators on the both the left and the right were so politicizing the Supreme Court nomination process that good people will no longer come forward to serve as judges and justices.
â€śThe judiciary is the most fragile branch of government,â€ť he said. â€śThey have no army. All they have is the force of the Constitution, the respect of the other branches of government, and hopefully the support of the American people.â€ť
He added: â€śThe one thing we donâ€™t want to lose in this country is an independent judiciary. We are putting the men and women willing to serve in these jobs through hell.â€ť
The debate is expected to continue through Thursday.